Christian Porter has resigned as Minister for Industry, Science and Technology after a controversy about his acceptance of an anonymous donation to pay legal fees in a defamation case.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the resignation on Sunday afternoon, saying Mr Porter was unable to provide any further information about the donation that could rule out a perceived conflict of interest in relation to ministerial standards.
“The minister has taken his own decision in relation to our discussion of the ministerial standards,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Porter had been in charge of the Industry portfolio for just over five months, responsible for the industry growth centres initiative and agencies including the CSIRO, the Australian Space Agency, IP Australia and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.
Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor will be acting Industry, Science and Technology minister, taking on the new responsibilities in addition to his existing portfolio.
Mr Porter, the fifth person to hold the Industry portfolio in five years, resigned after questions were raised about the anonymous donation he received to fund a legal bill in a now-settled defamation case against the ABC and its journalist Louise Milligan.
Mr Porter disclosed the donation earlier this week in an update to his Members’ Register of Interests, which said that a “blind” trust had partly funded his case.
“I understand the questions raised in the media about the financial arrangements to help fund the now settled litigation,” Mr Porter said in a statement on Sunday. “But I consider that I have provided the information required under the Members’ Register of Interests.
“I also considered that the additional disclosures I provided under the Ministerial Standards were in accordance with its additional requirements. However, after discussing the matter with the Prime Minister I accept that any uncertainty on this point provides a very unhelpful distraction for the government in its work.”
Consequently, he said he provided the Prime Minister “with my resignation earlier today”.
“It is effective immediately,” he said.
“Ultimately, I decided that if I have to make a choice between seeking to pressure the trust to break individuals’ confidentiality in order to remain in cabinet, or alternatively forego my cabinet position, there is only one choice I could, in all conscience, make.”
Mr Porter will now go to the backbench and intends to recontest his Western Australia seat of Pearce in the next election, expected early next year.
“I have previously stated my determination to contest the next election in Pearce and have nominated for preselection, and I have no intention of standing aside from my responsibilities to the people of Pearce,” he said.
Mr Porter thanked the Prime Minister, his cabinet and ministerial and parliamentary colleagues for their “fellowship and support”.
“I have always tried my best to fulfil my role as part of a hard-working team in government and now will work again to secure the return of the Morrison Government whenever the next election is held,” he said.
The Prime Minister declined to directly endorse Mr Porter for preselection.
Earlier on Sunday, Labor’s shadow industry spokesman Ed Husic said Mr Porter had to go.
“You just cannot have a cabinet minister, have a million dollars’ worth of legal fees, be paid anonymously, through a blind trust,” Mr Husic told Sky News. “It’s inconceivable that you could tolerate that situation. Remember, this is the Coalition that hounded Sam Dastyari out [of Parliament] for $2,000.”
After Mr Porter resigned, Mr Husic said the minister wouldn’t be “remembered for much” because “he didn’t do much”.
“The only record Christian Porter broke as Industry Minister was his short tenure: 173 days,” Mr Husic said.
“The Coalition has been in power for eight years. They’re gearing up for their eighth minister for industry. Their record speaks for itself – this portfolio is where they send problems, not fix them.
“Good riddance to another failed industry minister from the failing Morrison Government. We hold our breath until the next person in Mr Morrison’s circus of incompetence arrives in the ministerial wing.”
Labor’s shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said Mr Porter’s resignation from cabinet didn’t “draw a line” under the matter.
“Mr Morrison now needs to come clean about how much he knew about this secret fund, and demand Mr Porter either come clean about the source of these donations or give the money back,” he said.
“Mr Porter’s resignation should also not be allowed to obscure the events that led to this point.”
Mr Porter said it had been a “great honour” to serve as a cabinet minister over the past six years and as parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister before that.
“I believe the Morrison Government has been a good and considered government in the most difficult time our country has faced since World War II,” he said.
“If the last decision I was a part of in cabinet was to provide Australia with the future deterrent of nuclear-powered submarines, then I have been part of a government that works to change the face of Australia’s future security with a decision that our children will thank us for.”
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